Are you there Mabel? Tech & The Art of Aging

There’s this thing about tech, you need to keep up…

When I was a much younger data whisperer, I worked for an e-tailer, so most of my pay packet went into buying the latest gadgets. I was up for bashing Twitter till I figured out what it was for and I jumped feet first into the whole smartphone shenanigans with enthusiasm and bucket loads of curiousity.

Lately, as I approach my 40th year, despite spending over half my lifetime in Tech, I’m feeling a sense of comfort with the staus quo. Nope, I don’t snapchat, I hardly instagram and I’ve never, ever swiped for a date.

"i saw you on tinder" Trastevere 2014 by Denis Bocquet
“i saw you on tinder” Trastevere 2014 by Denis Bocquet is licensed under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

It used to be that as defacto tech support for the OAPs in my life, I struggled for patience. I barely restrained the eye rolls at timidity  when it came to tech. I never really knew how to explain the love, concern, fear and hope I have for Tech and its myriad of products. I’m still a little irritated when old dears say “Oh you must be so clever to do that”. Not that I’m not clever, I don’t think you necessarily need to be clever to have digital skills. What I think you need are a healthy dose of curiousity, a dash of tenacity and a smidge of devil-may-care for making mistakes.

Dexter's Lab © Genndy Tartakovsky / Cartoon Network
Dexter’s Lab © Genndy Tartakovsky / Cartoon Network

It occurrred to me that I just wasn’t speaking their language. I knew deep down I didn’t understand how some older folks saw newer tech. It took one incident to really drive that home.

On a cold, autumn evening in 2014, Arriva Yorkshire’s announced bus timetable change landed. Not world ending you might think but the OAPs on my street were up in arms: Confusion abounded! Even the bus drivers were getting the new route wrong! All was not lost, the brave ladies who shared my route took matters into their own hands – they set up a social media page.

From my spot at the back of the bus, I listened in amusement as I learnt something new.

Firstly, they didn’t talk about tech like I do. Sure, this may be a geographical or life experience thing but what struck me was the conversation was like all their conversation (what can I say, bus journeys can be boring!). It went a little like this:

“So, what you do is, you go onto this website and put your details in. Then you say, ‘Are you there Mabel?’ and if she is, she’ll say hello.”

No “log in”, no “type”, heck, barely any tech terms.


Jargon via
Jargon via

As if to drive the point home, a few months later I was on a train (this happens more than you’d think). Someone had barely missed being hit on a track and delays were inevitable. The silver-haired lady next to me tried and failed to send a text, so she called instead. Getting an answerphone messsage, she said:

“I’ve sent you an electronic message”

No “text”, not even a “message” but a very preceise “electronic message”.

This made my day. My point here isn’t that their terms are right or wrong, simply that they are. Could my newfound understanding of the language barrier help the OAPs in my life ignite, well, not a passion but perhaps less of an aversion to all things digital?

So what if I started this quest from a self-centered point of view? My own sense of loss of being at the cutting edge of tech was the trigger, but Mabel and her friends planted a seed of curiousity that blossomed into conversation and a renewed passion for “Tech for everyone”.

In April, I began my project “Are you there Mabel?”. Every month or so, I’ll be talkng to OAPs about tech, how they feel about it and what it was like in the analogue day. The intention isn’t to convert them to tech fiends but to tell the story of new tech with old words, to connect the dots between their experience in which they’re comfortable and the alien Tech world they may feel excluded from.

Aged by Ronnie
Aged by Ronnie is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Tech is for everyone and we can learn so much from people who’ve lived through things you only ever read about. People who have a deep life experience to share with us only we reach out and include them.

header image: Aged by Ronnie

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Consultant: Data Science & Data Analysis – Making the complex, simple

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